13

The US House of Representatives has its own ceremonial mace, which was apparently one of the first things that they authorized once they met for the first time. However, the Senate does not seem to have an equivalent. It has a gavel, which fills a similar (albeit much less impressive) niche, but as far as I can tell, the gavel acquired its importance from the fact it has been used for so long.

Why did the early Senate not authorize a mace for itself? Was it even discussed?

  • 2
    "For example, maces were used in the Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom and the general assembly in colonial Virginia." - from the article you reference. As far as I can tell, the Mace is in the House of Commons, but not the House of Lords; the same tradition holds in the US analogue. Of course in the British constitution. There is an implication that the lower houses govern while the upper houses advise/council. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 25 at 17:01
  • 11
    The House and the Senate are notorious for not liking each other much. The last thing we want is an arms race between them. – T.E.D. Nov 25 at 17:02
  • 3
    @T.E.D. hmm, could get interesting. The house mace of ceremony vs the senate flail of tradition? – jwenting Nov 26 at 9:36
6

The House's tradition of a ceremonial mace descends from the British House of Commons:

enter image description here

Ceremonial maces originated in the Ancient Near East, where they were used as symbols of rank and authority across the region during the late Stone Age, Bronze Age, and early Iron Age. ....

The earliest ceremonial maces in France and England were practical weapons intended to protect the king's person, borne by the Sergeants-at-Arms, a royal bodyguard established in France by Philip II, and in England probably by Richard I, ....

As the custom of having sergeants' maces began to die out about 1650, the large maces borne before the mayor or bailiffs came into general use. Thomas Maundy functioned as the chief maker of maces during the English Commonwealth. He made the mace for the House of Commons in 1649. This mace is still in use today, though without the original head.

The tradition continues for much the same reason as why the House of Representatives shares the same moniker prefix as the British House of Commons - it addresses the same legislative function. As in the British tradition, the U.S. Constitution specifies that:

Article II Section 7

All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; ....

Although the U.K. House of Lords now also uses a ceremonial mace that tradition originates only in 1876, as a supplement to the function of the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, long after the U.S. Senate established its own procedures.


Update

A search of the House Journal for the first five sessions of Congress for "sergeant-at-arms", "serjeant-at-arms", and "mace" (in relevant contexts) turns up on Monday, April 13, 1789:

The House proceeded to consider the report from the committee appointed to prepare such further rules and orders of proceeding as may be proper to be observed in this House, which lay on the table, and the said report was read, and is as followeth:

"Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee, that the rules and orders following ought to be established as additional standing rules and orders of this House, to wit:

....

  1. It shall be the office and duty of a Serjeant-at-Arms, to attend the House during its sitting, to execute the commands of the House, from time to time, and all such process, issued by authority thereof, as shall be directed to him by the Speaker, and either by himself, or special messengers appointed by him, to take and detain in his custody members or other persons ordered by the House to be taken or committed.

  2. A proper symbol of office shall the provided for the Sergeant-at-Arms, of such form and device as the Speaker shall direct, which shall be placed on the Clerk's table during the sitting of the House, but when the House is in committee, shall be placed under the table. The Serjeant-at-Arms shall, moreover, always bear the said symbol when executing the immediate commands of the House, during its sitting, returning the same to the Clerk's table when the service is performed.

  3. ....

and on Tuesday, April 14, 1789:

Mr. Boudinot reported, from the committee to whom was re-committed certain clauses of the report for establishing additional rules and orders of proceeding to be observed in this House ... as followeth:

"Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee, that the rules and orders following ought to be established, as additional standing rules and orders of this House, to wit:

A Serjeant-at-Arms shall be appointed, ....

A proper symbol of office shall be provided far the Serjeant-at-Arms, of such form and device as the Speaker shall direct, which shall be borne by the Sergeant when in the execution of his office.

...."

The current mace "has been in use in the House since 1841 ... [and] is made of 13 thin ebony rods representing the original states ... bound together by the twining silver bands, which are pinned together and held at the top and bottom of the shaft by repoussé silver bands."

enter image description here

  • The House of Lords also has a mace, though. By (possibly inaccurate) analogy, that would indicate that the Senate should, too. I could see that leading to an argument that the Senate chose not to have one because it would be too much like the Lords. – Bobson Nov 25 at 17:21
  • 2
    @Bobson: Just addressed that. That was adopted only in 1876. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 25 at 17:23
  • That would do it. – Bobson Nov 25 at 18:38
  • I'm accepting this answer, since it makes a lot of sense and is probably correct, but if someone manages to find an actual record of discussion or a vote, I may switch to that. – Bobson Dec 2 at 18:54
2

Question:
Why does the US House have a ceremonial mace, but the Senate does not?

The House of Representatives in the American System of government is the "peoples house". It is originally the only branch of the United States government which was elected by the people. The Senate with it's longer terms and fewer seats, was originally elected by the state legislatures. The Senate by design served a different constituency. The House's symbol, the mace, is a weapon. Specifically House mace was designed after the weapons used by the body guards of the Roman Magistrates who created order out of unruly crowds.

Mace of the United States House of Representatives
The design of the mace is derived from an ancient battle weapon and the Roman fasces (In ancient Rome, the bodyguards of a magistrate).

The Mace is the ceremonial symbol of the House of Representative. Wielded by the Sergeant at arms. It is used in the opening ceremony of the House every day the house is in session. It proceeds the speaker of the House to the rostrum, after that it sits on the desk of the sergeant at arms as a symbol or his office and the order of the House. The Mace is used to restore order in the rare occasion when representatives get unruly. The Sergeant at Arms, upon instructions from the speaker "presents" the mace to the unruly party.. to restore order.

Mace of the United States House of Representatives
In one of its first resolutions, the U.S. House of Representatives of the 1st Federal Congress (April 14, 1789) established the Office of the Sergeant at Arms. The resolution stated "a proper symbol of office shall be provided for the Sergeant at Arms, of such form and device as the Speaker shall direct." The first Speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, approved the mace as the proper symbol of the Sergeant at Arms in carrying out the duties of this office.
.
In accordance with the House Rules, on the rare occasion that a member becomes unruly, the Sergeant at Arms, upon order of the Speaker, lifts the mace from its pedestal and presents it before the offenders, thereby restoring order.

The Senate on the other hand is supposed to be a more gentile institution. It is supposed to be an assemble of gentlemen and the leading citizens of the country. An elite assemble. It's symbol is two delicate ivory gavels which are used in it's opening ceremonies and wielded by it's Sergeant at Arms, and rarely if ever come out of the wooden ceremonial box which contain them..

Sources:

  • 1
    "presents the mace to restore order". I wonder if that's ever been done the traditional way, with a good swing to the skull :) – jwenting Nov 26 at 4:44
  • @jwenting yeah the source says it's happened six times in history. I wonder if during the civil war was one. During the civil war build up there were times when members got into fights on the floor of the house and senate, Lincoln's future Sec of State was beaten by another senator with a caine and was hospitalized on the floor of the senate. Got to read up on those six times the mace got involved in the house. – JMS Nov 26 at 11:52
  • 1
    As an aside, the front benches of the House of Commons were designed to be more than two sword lengths' apart - just in case honourable Members forgot to be gentlemen ;') Strange, since by the time the present HoC was built, men no longer routinely wore swords. – TheHonRose Dec 3 at 1:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.